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What makes 'Community' different from NBC's other Thursday sitcoms? One word: Confidence.

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When it comes to the comedy of awkwardness — the laughs wrung from miscommunication, embarrassing emotional act-outs, baffled stares — NBC’s sitcoms are better at it than any other network’s. (This figures, since its late-night programming also operates on the same principle.)

The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation: Terrific shows all, and all sitcoms that rely heavily on lead characters (Michael Scott, Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope) that are oblivious, indifferent, or sometimes-both to the crass or impolitic nature of the things they say.

Not so on Community. As the season has progressed, the series has steadily developed in a new, fresh manner, one distinct from its Thursday-night neighbors. What can make Community exhilarating is that it’s frequently all about confidence.

Think about it: Jeff (Joel McHale) is so cocky, even the rest of the study-groupers have to take him down a peg or two occasionally; Abed (Danny Pudi) is so comfortable in his savant dorkiness, the only human interaction he really needs is an audience of meatbags off which he can bounce pop-culture references; Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) radiates the calmness of a woman who takes no crap and is one of the most overt, least-ridiculed Christian characters on TV; Britta (Gillian Jacobs) knows the advantages and limitations of blonde allure and doesn’t hide her quirks (“BAG-el”); Pierce (Chevy Chase) has reached an age where he both enjoys the company of young people and doesn’t mind admitting he’s completely out-of-the-loop pop-culturally; Annie (Alison Brie) is both cheerful and intelligent, a rare combo in any sitcom; and Troy (Donald Glover) was, for pete’s sake, a football star and prom king, and is, if anything, even more assured of his charms than Jeff and teams with Abed for the show’s regularly superb closing-seconds parodies.

Tonight, the Community gang goes gung-ho for the school’s paintball competition, and the show delivers on its deft homages to everything from Die Hard to 28 Days Later to Scarface to John Woo films. The action sequences are extremely well-staged (by Fast & Furious director Justin Lin), which only make the loony jokes better. As usual, there are a number of other things going on as well:

• Jeff and Britta’s brittle banter has become so intricate, Abed is forced to transcend mere comparisons to Ross-and-Rachel and Sam-and-Diane.

• There are some very precise, stinging, hilarious slaps at Glee.

• You get to hear Jeff say, “I invented phony,” and see a lot of his pecs, if that’s something for which you’ve you’ve been tuning in.

In short, a first-rate edition of Community. Will you be watching? I’m confident you will…